Beta Marketing

by Marianne Richmond on November 28, 2005

The WSJ has an article today on technology companies use of beta tests as marketing tools. This is not really new news. TechNewsWorld titled an article "Software Firms Use Beta Tests to Build Buzz" several months ago and coined the term "beta mania" to describe the phenomenon.

What I think is noteworthy about the widespread use of beta introductions are two things. The Wall Street Journal article highlighted one, the public acceptance of a version of a product that by definition of the word, Beta, implies that it is unstable. It says,  "Few people would fly on an airline that advertised its planes had
untested engines, or swallow a pill from a drug company that admitted
the side effects were unknown. Yet when it comes to software, it seems
consumers are much more adventurous."

The WSJ then quotes Peter Sealey, a marketing professor, and formerly CMO of Coca Cola during the CAA days who aptly notes "I can’t come up with anything else in the entire marketing world where
marketers knowingly introduce a flawed or inadequate product [and] it
helps grow your user base."

When you think about this, it is amazing. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are the big Beta players but there are lots of baby Betas….the WSJ mentioned; I am currently using TailRank, Measure Map, and Firefox 1.5 to name a few. Now I wouldn’t fly in a Beta plane or drive a Beta car so why do I use Beta software. It must satisfy some inner need to try something new, try something cool…give input into design without actually designing; there is no cost so the value outweighs the risk. So, what’s a little instability….we can have that from the software that we pay for and depend upon!

The other aspect of Beta marketing that I think is noteworthy is the invitation list…..Google has really fine tuned this with Gmail! What better way to create buzz than to be exclusive. And not only did the invitees get to be regarded as cool enough to get an invitation from Google for a Gmail account, they got to designate others cool enough to achieve Uber Geek status as they pass on invitations to others.


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